THE DIVIDED COUNTRY
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wonderful book “Team of Rivals” reminds us of how divisive
the issue of slavery was. It gripped the country, touching business, culture, and politics, and giving rise to a variety of approaches. In the North, responses ranged from complete abolition to acceptance, with gradual elimination or inevitable decline in between.
Of course, the institution of slavery was so abominable that it merited such attention. For the nation, the issue was crucial since, as stated by Lincoln, “a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free.”
Although not threatening to destroy our nation, the current cultural divide is eroding the heritage of liberty in our country. America has survived and prospered as a nation with freedom for work, education, creativity, travel, and beliefs. For the most part, we have
lived in a benign climate of respect for opinions, choices, and privacy of our fellow citizens.
However, the current climate of implementation of religious agendas and interference in personal privacy is creating a divided country. A comprehensive article by Pam Belluck in the April 23rd issue of the New York Times charts states that are on opposite sides of the current divide. For example, she shows 10 states, including California and Massachusetts, allowing or leaning toward permission for civil unions or gay marriage and 8 supporting or about to vote for support of stem cell research. She also discusses other issues where state laws differ, including environmental issues such as mileage standards, same-sex adoption, “intelligent design”, and, of course, abortion rights.
So we have in our country a rising trend toward a division of states between those that respect privacy and freedom of choice and those that do not. In the short term, it is not crucial for a person to live in states that don’t adopt extra environmental standards or support stem cell research. However, when it comes to skewed education or limits on a woman’s reproductive rights, we’re dealing with irreparable damage. Children in states where schools fail to teach protection in sex education or inject creationism into science are short-changed and could suffer from it. A woman who cannot get a needed abortion has health at risk and an unwanted child.
There is great value in diversity of opinion and legislative solutions made possible by our form of federalism. States can and have come up with innovative ideas to cope with society’s problems or to provide for a better future. However, there must be limits. Consider the situation where there is no Roe v. Wade and states can impinge on a woman’s right to choose, as South Dakota has done, Sure, there will be states where abortions are permitted but that’s of no help to thousands of young girls and women who cannot afford to travel there.
In areas such as basic woman’s and educational rights, we cannot afford a division into “blue” states and “red” states. In the current national political climate, it is difficult to see federal legislation that will protect privacy and other basic rights. But this must be done so that every citizen of this country has the benefit of fundamental rights.